Human Rights Community

Successes, Challenges, and Future Partnerships in Africa: Lessons from AGAG

Contributed by Keith Armstrong, Program Assistant, IHRFG –

Africa Grantmakers Affinity Group (AGAG) held their 2014 conference in New York on March 19-20. Between 40 and 50 funders working in Africa gathered to share strategies, strengthen resources, and engage in lively discussions about how their philanthropy fits into the overall context of Africa funding. The intimate setting provided an excellent space for frank dialogue about successes, challenges, and future partnerships.

With plenary sessions, small group discussions, interactive talks, case studies presentations, and concurrent sessions, the conference offered a smorgasbord of settings for funders to interact and share strategies. The case studies allowed grantmakers to share their diverse approaches to funding in Africa, and workshop their own strategies with their peers. Small and large group discussions led to philosophical exchanges about grantmaker-grantee relationships, and the best ways to get community input that resonates with the needs of African communities. Even over lunch and outside of the formal conference settings, the participants continued these lively discussions and forged valuable connections with each other.

The three plenary sessions on the first day of the conference dealt with a wide variety of topics, ranging from the confluence of art and philanthropy as dual engines of social change to an exploration of different funding techniques by non-traditional philanthropic actors (approaches including Diaspora giving and cash transfers). During the latter session, Stephen Lawrence, Director of Research at the Foundation Center, described the funding landscape in Africa. Most philanthropic money to Africa focuses on health. Only 5% of money given to African recipients goes toward human rights and civil liberties. Perhaps the lack of funding toward human rights causes represents a gap that future collaborations between IHRFG and AGAG can help fill!

A talk by Martin O’Brien, Senior Vice President for Programmes, Atlantic Philanthropies, provided a window into the infrastructure for philanthropy Atlantic set up in South Africa. Atlantic is wrapping up its work, having given around $7 billion worldwide, but O’Brien spoke of the ways that their legacy will continue to impact the continent, and ways that other funders can continue to push for structural change in South Africa, particularly in the arena of LGBT rights.

The second day featured a number of concurrent sessions and case studies about topics in Africa grantmaking, such as environmental challenges, youth involvement in good governance, and the role of women’s organizations in creating stable societies. These smaller sessions gave funders the opportunity to delve deeper into specific strategies and learn how to apply them to their work.

Over the course of this two-day conference, Africa Grantmakers Affinity Group focused on many important themes in funding in Africa. By working closely with AGAG, IHRFG can continue to promote the use of a human rights lens and learn about specific issues that funders face on the continent. In February, IHRFG and AGAG co-hosted a telebriefing, “Zimbabwe: Reimagining Social, Economic, and Political Transportation”. We look forward to further developing a relationship with a peer affinity group.

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